The Fascinating Symbolism of Water in the Bible: 9 Attributes

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Symbolism of water in the Bible is a significant part of our Christian walk. It has symbolized the Spirit of God, cleaning and sanctification, God’s Word and so much more.

Water is so important in God’s Word that it is mentioned 722 times in the Bible, more often than faith, hope, prayer, and worship

Of course, it is also an important part of our physical life as we need water to survive.

If you are interested in Bible symbolism, you may wish to check out my posts on the symbolism of plants in the Bible, colors in the Bible, milk in the Bible, bread in the Bible or one of my other posts on symbolism in the Bible.

Are you ready to dive into the symbolism of water in the Bible?

water in the Bible

Meanings of Water in the Bible

Water as the Spirit of God

Water is mentioned in the second verse of the Bible, in Genesis 1:2

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. – Genesis 1:2

The symbolism of water in the Bible is used in numerous verses to refer to the Spirit of God. In John 7:37-39 Jesus gave a prophecy about the Spirit that would later come and referred to him as the living water.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, asthe Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. – John 7:37-39 (ESV)

The Spirit was poured on the day of Pentecost to empower members so they could go forth and make disciples.

A Symbol Of Spiritual Things

There are numerous verses of water in the Bible pointing to the correlation between water and spiritual things.

In one such instance, in Isaiah 8:6-7, the Bible talks of the waters that flow gently.

“Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah,therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, – Isaiah 8:6-7 (ESV)

In this verse, we see a contrast between the gently flowing waters, which refer to spiritual things and the strong waters which point to falsities.

Difficulties

Water in the Bible is also used to denote difficult times in life, especially for us, God’s children.

The prophet Jeremiah talks of waters and rivers as symbols of falsities and difficulties:

And now what do you gain by going to Egypt
    to drink the waters of the Nile?
Or what do you gain by going to Assyria
    to drink the waters of the Euphrates?- Jeremiah 2:18

Both the water of the Nile and the waters of the Euphrates are used symbolically to portray the falsities from reasonings that people were turning to and away from God. While there was an option for people to follow the right way, God through Jeremiah points out the faulty thinking.

A few other verses which reinforce the symbolism of water in the Bible as difficulties in our Christian lives:

Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him. – Psalm 32:6

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. – Isaiah 43:2

water closed over my head; I said, ‘I am lost.’ – Lamentations 3:54

A closeup shot of a person wearing a biblical robe while standing in the water in black and white; symbolism of water in the Bible

Water As Eternal Life

In both the Old and New Testaments, the word “water” is used as a symbol for salvation and eternal life, which God offers us through faith in his Son.

In the well-known story of the Samaritan woman by the well, Jesus tells her:

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:10-15 (ESV)

Here, Jesus refers to the water that He is to give the woman as the living water, and He goes ahead to say He is the source of that water which springs up to eternal life.

In Revelation 22:1, the Bible talks of the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of God. This is a description of heaven.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb –

Revelation 22:1 (ESV)

Additional verses about Jesus as the living water in the Bible:

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. – Isaiah 12:3 (ESV)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. – Revelation 22:17 (ESV)

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price. – Isaiah 55:1 (ESV)

Cleansing

Another symbolism of water in the Bible is that of spiritual cleansing that we undergo when we accept God’s offer of salvation.

Shortly after the creation of the world and the expulsion of Adam and Eve out of their Garden, Noah is introduced. Water again becomes a purifying agent to cleanse this new earth from wickedness in order for humans to start anew.

Water is a strong symbol in the Bible that represents cleansing from sin. For example, 1 John 5:7-9 talks of “the water and blood.” This passage usually refers to the Holy Spirit’s work as well as Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf when we are baptized into Him through faith.

In fact, in Ephesians 5:26, the “water” that does the cleansing of the bride, the church, is directly tied in with God’s Word, of which it is a symbol.

that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, – Ephesians 5:26 (ESV)

While baptism in water is not the magic bullet to become a Christian, but an outward symbol to recognize an inward change in us.

Additional verses about water in the Bible as a symbol for cleansing:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. – Ezekiel 36:25 (ESV)

let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:22 (ESV)

Water in the Bible as the Word of God

The word of God is often referred to as water in the Bible because it acts like a cleansing agent which explains what Paul meant when he wrote about Jesus’ cleansing the church.

that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish – Ephesians 5:26-27 (ESV)

There has been some mystery behind the meaning when John refers to water in 1 John 5:7-9.

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. – 1 John 5:7-9 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit is the third person of our Trinity. He convicts sinners and points them to their need for a Savior, just like Jesus did on earth during his earthly ministry. This conviction in turn leads people toward repentance where they acknowledge that there is no hope without God’s forgiveness through Christ’s blood sacrifice at Calvary (Colossians 2:13-14). The Word then can be compared with water as John says these three testify – the spirit, the word, and the water;

Water as Freedom and Being Set Apart

For the people of Israel, it is only through water that they find freedom and are set apart.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. – Exodus 14:21 (ESV)

The chosen people travel to enter the Promised Land but must first wander in the desert. Moses listens to the cries of his people for water and, “lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle” (Numbers 20:11).

Water not only purifies and sets free, but also nourishes and gives new life.

Living Water in the Bible

Living water is a phrase that can be found in different books throughout the Bible. We see it twice more during Old Testament times and then two new ones when Jesus comes along with his ministry, but there are four main instances of this word’s interesting use:

In the first instance we find “living” or “flowing” waters as mentioned by God to Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 17-18). The text says specifically “the Lord said unto him [Moses]…I will give you for a law”.

One of the early examples of living water in the Bible comes from Jeremiah 2:13 where God says, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Later in Jeremiah 17:13, Jeremiah says of God, “Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.”

In these two passages, God is referred to as “the spring of living water,” who His people have abandoned to try and do things their own way by digging their own cisterns and turning away from Him. The passages show that God gives His people everything they need, like water, and that when they turn away from Him, they are lost and hopeless.

Those two times in Jeremiah Yahweh is metaphorically identified as “the spring of living water” ( Jeremiah 2:13 17:13 ). In both instances Israel is rebuked for having forsaken the Lord for other cisterns that could in no way satisfy their “thirst.”

In a very important passage, Jesus identifies the “streams of living water” that flow from within those who believe in him with the Holy Spirit ( John 7:37-39 ). The reception of the Holy Spirit is clearly the special reception that was going to come after Jesus had been glorified at the Father’s right hand and happened on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2.

In the New Testament, Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman in John 4:10, saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Later in John 7: 37-39 Jesus once again speaks of living water, saying, “‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

In the two passages from John, Jesus speaks of living water not just as water, but also as a symbol for the Holy Spirit and what is to come after Jesus’ death and resurrection for his followers who believe in Him.

So, what is living water? Living water can be understood in various ways, but the clearest way is that living water is a symbol for salvation and a true knowledge of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God provides us with everything we need and is the “living water” that continues to always give to us.

Water in the Bible as a Symbolism for Salvation or Eternal Life

Isaiah talks about the wells of salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. – Isaiah 12:3 (ESV)

In revelation, Jesus says:

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. – Revelation 21:6 (ESV)

 

In John 4:14 we read:

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14 (ESV)

These verses confirm the symbolism of water in the Bible as Jesus as our salvation and eternal life.

Other Symbolism for Water in the Bible

In other passages of Scripture, the following are said to symbolize water:

God’s judgment

And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”Isaiah 28:17 (ESV)

Man’s words

The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook. – Proverbs 18:4 (ESV)

Man’s purposes

The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. – Proverbs 20:5 (ESV)

An adulterous woman

“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” – Proverbs 9:17 (ESV)

A person’s posterity

Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the LORD and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. – Isaiah 48:1 (ESV)

You may enjoy this brief video about water in the Bible by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

Check out one of our recommended resources to learn more about water in the Bible:

What did you find most interesting about the symbolism of water in the Bible? Did you learn anything new? I’d love to hear about it. Drop a comment below and let me know!

Because He Lives,

Sue

Susan is a writer, speaker and the creator of Women of Noble Character ministries. She is passionate about helping Christian women deepen their walk with God through Bible study and creative worship and strengthen their marriages.

She lives in rural North Central Missouri with her handsome and hilarious husband and a myriad of dogs, cats and chickens.

Susan runs on Jesus, coffee and not enough sleep.

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